North Carolina stations collaborate on shared programming service for African-American audiences

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Three North Carolina radio stations that serve African-American listeners are collaborating to create a statewide jazz service and drive-time news and public affairs programs in a bid to boost audience while sharing costs and resources.

The National Federation of Community Broadcasters is facilitating the project, which includes WFSS in Fayetteville, WNCU in Durham and WSNC in Winston-Salem. The stations currently air dual formats of jazz with news/talk during drive time, and all are licensed to historically black schools — Fayetteville State University, North Carolina Central University and Winston-Salem State University.

“We’re all located on HBCU [historically black colleges and universities] campuses, and we have very similar offerings,” says Elvin Jenkins, g.m. of WSNC. “So it just made sense.” Discussions among NFCB and the stations began in October 2012.

The stations are planning to co-produce and air programming for broadcast on weekdays, morning to evening. The service could also be picked up by three more North Carolina stations that are members of the African-American Public Radio Consortium, which also creates and syndicates programs to minority stations.

Produced by a four-person staff, an hourlong morning show would feature interviews with contributors throughout North Carolina, with an emphasis on content of interest to African-American listeners. NFCB and station leaders hope the program could also help increase the stations’ appeal to younger and tech-savvy listeners.

For middays, the stations are eyeing a shared jazz service which would prominently feature a jazz personality as an on-air presence. An NFCB proposal for the project suggested singer Nnenna Freelon or saxophonist Branford Marsalis, who teaches at North Carolina Central.

A three-person team would produce the six-hour daily music feed, taking a “top-40 approach to mainstream jazz” but adding content to appeal to fans of progressive jazz as well, the proposal said.

Finally, an evening drive-time public affairs strip would round out the shared service. Five hourlong shows, one for each weekday, would focus on areas of interest to African-American listeners, such as health or finance.

The news and public affairs shows would draw on scholars at the HBCUs as guests and resources. Producers would also tap writers and journalists for African-American blogs, news sites and newspapers as sources and interviewees. The shows would provide an alternative to programs on commercial black media, many of which focus more on the personalities of their hosts, NFCB said.

Managers at the three stations are discussing the potential productions with staff and university oversight, and assessing their capacity to participate. “Initial conversations are leaning toward the production process taking place at a primary station,” says Janice Lane Ewart, interim NFCB president. “It makes sense that it would be the station with the greatest capacity for production.”

Programming may be distributed either via ContentDepot or a shared ISDN line. NFCB and station leaders expect that the programming could even be extended to African-American stations beyond North Carolina, or that stations in other states, such as Maryland, Alabama and Mississippi, could collaborate under a similar model. NFCB will soon seek funding to support the next stage of the project, Lane-Ewart said.

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